Michael Gilbert

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For the person who died in 2009, see Murder of Michael Gilbert. For the American comic book artist, see Michael T. Gilbert. For the American music composer, see Michael William Gilbert.
Michael Francis Gilbert
Born (1912-07-17)17 July 1912
Died 8 February 2006(2006-02-08) (aged 93)
Pen name Michael Gilbert
Occupation Lawyer
Nationality British
Period 1946–1999
Genre Crime fiction, Spy fiction
Children Harriett Gilbert,Gerard Gilbert

Michael Francis Gilbert, CBE (17 July 1912 – 8 February 2006) was a British writer of both fictional mysteries and thrillers who wrote as Michael Gilbert. Over a career that spanned nearly 60 years he wrote nearly every kind of mystery and thriller as well as plays and radio shows. He wrote police procedurals, spy novels and short stories, courtroom dramas, classical mysteries, adventure thrillers, crime novels, and almost every possible combination of these, all with the same competence, a lean narrative style, and dry, detached wit. "Michael was an exceptionally fine storyteller, but he's hard to classify," said one of his British publishers after his death. "He's not a hard-boiled writer in the classic sense, but there is a hard edge to him, a feeling within his work that not all of society is rational, that virtue is not always rewarded.".[1] Although he never had a single recurring character such as Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot or Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe for which he became famous, he did have a number of characters who appeared off and on throughout his works over the years: Inspector Hazlerigg; Inspector Petrella; Inspector Bill Mercer; Chief Superintendent Morrissey; Superintendent Mahood; Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens; Wilfred Wetherall; Henry Bohun; Jonas Pickett; and Tara Fearne and Hugo Bracknell among others. Three collections of his short stories have been published since his death; as of 2016 his published works comprise 30 novels and approximately 185[2] stories in 13 collections. He also wrote several plays and numerous radio plays.

Life and work[edit]

Gilbert was a lawyer in London for many years and at one point had Raymond Chandler as his client.[3] He had a very long and very productive writing career, beginning with his first novel, Close Quarters, in 1946 and continuing through 1999 with Over and Out. He wrote almost every sort of mystery and thriller, perhaps spreading himself too thin over too many fields to achieve the reputation that many critics felt he deserved.[4] He wrote police procedurals, spy novels and short stories, courtroom dramas, classical mysteries, adventure thrillers, crime novels, and almost every possible combination of these, all with the same competence and dry, detached wit. He also wrote plays and serials for radio and TV[3] and non-fiction on legal topics.[5]

Perhaps among his very best books are two collections of short stories about two gentlemanly but exceedingly hard-boiled fictional British counterspies, Mr. Calder and Mr. Behrens, "middle-aged cut-throats" as one of their adversaries bitterly refers to them. One of his earliest novels, Smallbone Deceased, is also highly regarded by many, including writer and critic HRF Keating, who included it on his list of the 100 best crime and mystery books ever published.[4] Britain's Crime Writers' Association listed it in their Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time.

Gilbert was born in Billingshay, Lincolnshire, to Bernard Samuel Gilbert, a writer, and Berwyn Minna Cuthbert. He was educated at Saint Peters in Seaford, Blundell's School, and the University of London, where he read Law.[4] Because of a lack of funds, he had a spell teaching at the Cathedral School in the Close at Salisbury. While teaching there, he earned his law degree from the University in 1937.[6] He joined the Honourable Artillery Company when war broke out, serving in North Africa and Italy. In 1943 he was captured and imprisoned in northern Italy, escaping after the Italian surrender.[4] His POW experience and the roughly 500-mile trek he and another escaping soldier made south to the Allied lines provided material in some of his later books.[3] Reportedly, much of his writing was done on the daily train from his home in Kent to his London law firm.[4] His busy practice included a stint as legal adviser to the government of Bahrain, another experience that surfaced in his books.[3]

Gilbert was appointed CBE in 1980. He was a founder-member of the British Crime Writers' Association. The Mystery Writers of America named him a Grand Master in 1988.[4] In 1990, he was presented Bouchercon's Lifetime Achievement Award.[7]

He was the father of the writer and broadcaster Harriett Gilbert and the Independent journalist Gerard Gilbert.[3]


Mystery novels[8][edit]

  • Close Quarters (1947)
  • They Never Looked Inside (1947) [US He Didn't Mind Danger (1948)]
  • The Doors Open (1949)
  • Smallbone Deceased (1950)
  • Death Has Deep Roots (1951)
  • Death in Captivity (1952) [US The Danger Within]
  • Fear to Tread (1953)
  • Sky High (1955) [US The Country-House Burglar]
  • Be Shot for Sixpence (1956)
  • Blood and Judgement (1959) [US Blood and Judgment]
  • After the Fine Weather (1963)
  • The Crack in the Teacup (1966)
  • The Dust and the Heat (1967) [US Overdrive (1968)]
  • The Etruscan Net (1969) [US The Family Tomb (1969)]
  • The Body of a Girl (1972)
  • The Ninety-second Tiger (1973)
  • Flash Point (1974)
  • The Night of the Twelfth (1976)
  • The Empty House (1978)
  • Death of a Favourite Girl (1980) [US The Killing of Katie Steelstock]
  • The Final Throw (1982) [US End-Game]
  • The Black Seraphim (1983)
  • The Long Journey Home (1985)
  • Trouble (1987)
  • Paint, Gold and Blood (1989)
  • The Queen Against Karl Mullen (1991)
  • Roller-Coaster (1993)
  • Ring of Terror (1995)
  • Into Battle (1997)
  • Over and Out (1998)

Collections of short stories[edit]

Details of other short stories can be found in B. A. Pike, The Short Stories of Michael Gilbert. An annotated checklist, 1948–1997 (CADS: South Benfleet, Essex, 1998).


  1. ^ Douglas Greene of Crippen & Landrau, quoted in The New York Times, 15 February 2006
  2. ^ Introduction by John Cooper to The Murder of Diana Devon and Other Mysteries, Robert Hale, London,, 2009, page 7
  3. ^ a b c d e Adrian, Jack (10 February 2006). "Michael Gilbert: Cross-genre detective novelist". The Independent. Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Michael Gilbert (obituary)". The Telegraph. 10 February 2006. Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  5. ^ Martin Edwards (2006). "Michael Gilbert". Articles. martinedwardsbooks.com. Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  6. ^ Much of this information is from the Introduction by Ellery Queen to Amateur in Violence, Davis Publications, New York, 1973, page 4
  7. ^ "History of Guests of Honor". Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  8. ^ "Michael Francis Gilbert: One of the most versatile of the English school of Mystery writers". http://www.mysterylist.com. Retrieved 19 September 2012.  External link in |publisher= (help)

External links[edit]